Willie Nelson's blue eyes were cryin' in the rain, Crystal Gayle's brown eyes turned blue, and now Elvis Costello is all blue... almost.
A musical schizophrenic throughout his career, he has displayed as many personalities as the seven dwarfs and, while remaining grumpy, country and western is the latest side to Elvis Costello.
Always a fan of American country, or America for that matter, his early days as a musician were spent recording demo tapes and performing in country pubs in London under his Christian name — Declan McMannes. When signed by Stiff Records in 1976, MeMannes picked his pseudonym, using Elvis Presley's first name and Lou Costello's last. While the choice may have been in admiration for two of America's finest entertainers, it turned into a sour joke following Presley's death.
If you're going to do something, do it right, and Costello has done exactly that. Moving his band, The Attractions, down to Nashville, Costello covered all the bases, recording tunes originally released by George Jones, Hank Williams, Charlie Rich and others.
Filling out the sound with the background vocals of the Nashville Edition and pedal steel by Doobie Brother John McFee, Almost Blue is as convincing a country effort as you can find.
Rocking out Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)" and "Honey Hush," the mellow moments provide the finest points on Almost Blue. "Good Year For The Roses," and Gram Parsons' (Flying Burrito Bros.), "I'm Your Toy," allow Costello to enhance the lyrical self-pity, with the smoothest voice to drip out of the new wave.
The largest disappointment to Almost Blue is that Costello has penned none of the tunes on the album. Linda Ronstadt recorded three of his tunes on her last effort, proof of his respect among American performers.
The Attractions come up strong on Almost Blue. They're brand of music has always been keyboard-based, but the country touch showcases Steve Neive's ability to tickle the ivories.
Almost Blue has fulfilled Costello's most obvious fantasy. It's a good album, which assures us he hasn't gone stagnant. Now let's hope country and western is out of his system, and he'll start treating us with something along the lines of what made me a fan in the first place.